A few months ago I officially joined the board of Austin Food Bloggers Alliance as their Social Chair. I’ve been a member of their organization since its inception and served in various committees every season so it felt like a good move! My main role is to organize monthly happy hours for our members and this past month’s happy hour was at the newly open and beautifully designed Stella San Jac, located in the also new Westin in downtown Austin. Stella San Jac’s space features an open kitchen and small subtle interior details that are reminiscent of parts of a guitar, aptly designed to accommodate the live music they host for their guests.
We sampled a good amount of their menu. As I listened to the members mingle and talk about their experience, I didn’t hear one complaint about either service or taste. My personal favorite bite was the beet chips which incidentally also happened to be the only bite I didn’t photograph. Oops! A close second was the buttery famous #16 Biscuits, named for how many iterations it took for the recipe to reach ultimate perfection. Another favorite, the deviled eggs, made with andouille sausage were unlike the average deveiled egg and I gobbled down three!
Stella San Jac was such a great host to our group. I walked away with a full and happy belly and plans to come back with my friends!
Chicken Johnny Cakes, $7
Pearl Cous Cous, oil cured tomato, feta, frisee; $11
Smoked Salmon Spread; with pickled onions and caperberries; $12
Deviled Eggs, $6
Chef setting up the tasty devils.
Slider versions of Stella Burger; white cheddar, bbq mayo, crispy onions, normally served with fries; burgers (not sliders) $13
Blueberry Sweet Bread French Toast
Stella Fusion Cocktail
They have a cocktail called Stella Fusion they infuse every day with new flavors. On this particular day they infused Dolce Vida Tequila with pineapple and jalapeños. It was a smooth cocktail and I wish it had more pineapple flavor.
To our delight, Chef Cerrie took the time to demo the making of his biscuits. Key ingredients were butter in the batter and a slathering of bacon fat as a finishing touch!
When I’m in a tall building, I like to ask if there’s an open roof I could check out to take some photos. General Manager David Dickinson kindly escorted me and dear friend South Austin Foodie to their rooftop pool where we peered at the traffic and I snapped a few photos. I love that golden glow of the sun!
Almost five years ago I met Michelle, Julie, Shelley and Amy. We bonded over our passion for food and food writing. I knew the day I met Michelle that she was probably a kindred spirit when she slipped an iPad under the table to me and on it was a naked photo of Anthony Bourdain strategically holding a steak.
We make a point to meet up for dinner every few months to catch up on life happenings and this week we met at Alcomar. It’s always a joy eating with other food bloggers. There is no shyness about getting up from your seat and standing over someone else’s plate to take a photo. It’s understood that we will double-dip and often eat off each other’s plates. There’s an intimacy to how we eat that isn’t always present or even tolerated with the average eating companion.
I ordered the scallops and was pleased with my order. After nibbling and tasting the rest of the plates, I think Alcomar is a good addition to Austin’s seafood and Latin scene. Our server seemed slightly distracted (but polite!) which was in a small sense a distraction in itself. The quality of food was solid and strong enough to keep our attention despite the distraction. The scallops were my favorite and they came with a unique side of cauliflower flan. Amy really liked the cerviche (not pictured) and a few of us thought the crab cake was a little too bready.
Must orders: Scallops Veracruzana, Wood-Grilled Gulf Oysters, and Mushroom Gorditas. Happy Hour: 3p-6p daily, check their website for happy hour prices
Complimentary Habanero Pumpkin Seed Salsa and Pickles
There are many perks to being best friends with a worldly photographer who is passionate about food. Thomas not only has been coaching me in my photography skills for almost two years now, but with all the traveling and eating he does, he ends up being my food tour guide around the country. We’ve eaten together for over ten years and have similar palates so I never second guess his recommendations. He’s been my gastronomical guide in Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and now Chicago. He traveled to Chicago many times a year for one of his jobs and we dedicated our entire eating plan to his recommendations.
I couldn’t leave Chicago without eating their hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. You can get both at Portillo’s where their cake shakes are also reputable. Chicago dog slingers notoriously shun ketchup. (Don’t tell anyone I dipped an end of my hot dog in ketchup.) The slices of Italian beef were so thin and moist, I was so happy I only ordered one as I could easily scarf down two and then be incapacitated.
Another must-eat in Chicago is deep-dish pizza. A well-known deep-dish pizza establishment in Chicago is Lou Malnati. This is where we had a family style dinner with our friends in Chicago before heading out to Taylor Swift’s concert. (See how I casually worked in the reason why I went to Chicago?) Our table of seven overstuffed ourselves on two pizzas. They were so good it hard to exert self-control. I was glad I opted for a forgiving dress to wear to the concert.
Every time my family or workplaces received the big tins of popcorn that had the butter, caramel, and cheese popcorns, I would make mix bowls of the cheese and caramel popcorns. Onlookers would narrow their eyes at me for doing so, and I always felt a little odd for it. Thank you Garrett for validating me! I didn’t know “mix” for them meant the same thing! At Garrett’s you can buy either caramel popcorn, butter popcorn, cheddar popcorn, or mixed which translates to a mix of cheddar and caramel. I’ve always enjoyed my sweet with a little savory so I highly recommend just getting the mix. I bought a bag of the cheddar and my girlfriend bought a bag of caramel and we mixed it. (She has a bigger sweet tooth than I do).
They make their popcorn fresh daily and it’s best to consume right away as it gets stale by the next day. Though the caramel lasts longer because of the sugar coating! Be wary of subsequent buttery cheese fingers when consuming.
If you miss out, there’s a Garrett’s at the O’Hare Airport and you can also order online. I’m assuming they seal it better to ship if you want to buy online.
I forgot to take a photo of my popcorn and was tempted to just embed this photo.
This Rick Bayless restaurant was our first stop during our short weekend trip to Chicago and it set the tone for a weekend of amazing eating. Known for their sandwiches, we all ordered sandwiches. I ordered the Pepito (braised short rib, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapeños, added avocado; $12, $13 with added avocado) and split their famous Ahogada (golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato-arbol chile broth, pickled onions; $11) with my roommate. If you have an eating buddy, I recommend ordering two different sandwiches as they come cut, making it easy to share. If it’s just you, get the Ahogada, the dipping broth is amazing. I also sampled their Baja Chicken sandwich, another solid choice.
For dessert we tried their renown Mexican drinking hot chocolate, so thick it’s like a chocolate sauce, perfect for dipping the churros. We also split the flan which was topped with spicy bacon caramel popcorn. Not one bite of our meal was mediocre.
If you missed out on fitting Xoco into your itinerary, you can also get some of the same sandwiches at Tortas Frontera at O’Hare airport.
For brunch, try Bongo Room. I split a bastardized version of the Vegetarian Croissant Sandwich (we added bacon) and the White Chocolate Pretzel Pancakes. Those pancakes arrived doused in a white chocolate sauce and the pretzels were in the pancake batter giving it a nice salty crunch. I’m typically not a pancake kind of person but kept coming back to the pancakes, strategically aiming for bites with pretzel.
Note the location we chose (1152 S Wabash Ave) is the only location that does not serve alcohol.
615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661 http://avecrestaurant.com
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11:30a-2p
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 3:30p-12a; Friday and Saturday 3:30p-1a
Sunday brunch: 10am-2pm
Back in Texas and on the way home from the airport, I asked the girls I traveled with what their favorite bite was. They both said the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($14) from Avec. My favorite bite was also from Avec, the squid ink pasta with fennel, dill, and sardines ($18). I KNOW. Talk about range. We also ate the burrata pizza with charred eggplant, cherry tomato confit, basil and calabrian chili honey ($18) and the butcher’s steak ($18). A couple of notes: they do not take reservations and you can easily wait two hours. Some people have strong opinions about long waits but I am rarely turned off by them so long as I’m in good company.
This was the only restaurant we had on our list but didn’t make. We underestimated the amount of time we needed to eat at Avec and missed our planned second dinner at Purple Pig. I couldn’t help but include this place in this round up though because look at that photo of the turkey leg. I will most definitely be back to Chicago and next time I’ll make it here!
Last month I was one of the lucky guests invited to an intimate six-course dining experience at The Hollow Brasserie in Georgetown, Texas, hosted by Chef Jacob and his wife Lynda. I want to highlight my favorite entrees and also help them spread the word of their good work. Their menu changes often and they also serve brunch. If you live in North Austin or want to spend a day exploring neighboring towns, I suggest checking out The Hollow. Come early so you can explore the neighboring shops that mostly have early closing times.
I noticed as I dine with my friends through the years, pâté is kind of a polarizing food. You either love or hate it. I never tire of pâtés and enjoyed the unique pairings with the pickled cucumber and peaches.
The tomato beurre fondue and risotto gave the duck a comforting bath in which to nestle. I vaguely remember spooning every last drop.
We finished our meal with a decadent and creamy chocolate and blackberry cake. The Hollow left a strong impression with their execution of entrees and their passionate approach to running their restaurant. As our dinner conversation meandered, we discussed how the food community in Georgetown still has a lot of exciting growth ahead of them. The Hollow is the only French influenced brasserie in the area. Nestled in a quaint downtown square and being a restaurant so committed to forage and locally source their ingredients, I can see the importance of having a restaurant like The Hollow in Georgetown.
My dear friend Michelle, who blogs at Foodie is the New Forty and I try to meet twice or thrice a month to have dinner and to blog. The formula for our blogging dates includes picking a casual place for dinner and then migrating to a coffee shop to work on our laptops. Our significant others are welcomed to join for either or both parts of the night. Sugarface hadn’t been able to join us for the last few months so our last blogging date was especially nice when he joined us for the first time in a while.
What I love about our foursome is how easily it is dissolve into unrestrained laughs and how uncanny our commonalities feel, which coincidentally was represented by what we ordered when we tried out Bun Belly a few weeks ago. We each ordered the Bun Belly Egg Noodle bowl because we all wanted pork belly and noodles. We split the Salt and Pepper Shrimp and then all tucked into our own bowls of noodles and pork belly. Pork belly at Bun Belly to go with our belly laughs.
We much liked our experience at Bun Belly and I’m going to have to remember to suggest it again so that we can try more of their contemporary Vietnamese menu. I see that they have Vietnamese crepes which I had promised to make for Michelle and Chris and have yet to make good on my promise!
Salt and Pepper Shrimp; beer-battered, onion, garlic, jalapeño, seasonal greens, and lime dipping sauce; $14
Bun Belly Egg Noodle; Pork belly, bok choy, over easy egg, beef broth on the side; $11
I like asking first generation immigrants where they go to eat when they’re homesick for their mother countries. I’m curious about their opinions on authenticity in their cuisine in the states. So when I asked my coworker Himanshu where he goes to eat when he’s homesick for his mom’s cooking, he without pausing told me New India. He said he’s from Maharashtra, India and New India has authentic Maharashtrian food. I’ve gone before for their lunch Thali platter offerings but wanted to try what Himanshu liked most. So we ordered his favorites when we met up for a collaboration over lunch.
This prawn appetizer was exquisitely spicy and perfectly cooked. I felt myself grow flush with each bite. You can adjust your spice preference with most of their offerings from mild to “Desi hot”. The flavors were so tantalizing that I didn’t bother with the mint sauce.
Left: Chicken Malvani Roasted Coconut Curry; fresh roasted coconut cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, chilies & ci lantro; $13. Right: Kheema Masala (Ground Lamb); ground lamb cooked with fresh ginger, onions, tomatoes, & whole spice; $14
Himanshu warned me that these two dishes are so authentic he’s not sure an American palate would enjoy it if it has been seasoned by Americanized Indian food. His warnings were in vain because I loved every bite.
What I enjoyed about the curries at New India is I don’t feel so guilty as they use much less cream in general in comparison to the average Indian restaurant and they’re still comforting in texture and flavors. Himanshu and I traded notes on Indian places around town and we both appreciated that New India doesn’t have us smelling like Indian cuisine when we leave. I’m glad Himanshu reminded me of its existence. Our work place is not so far from New India so I’m going to keep this place on my radar for days I forget to pack a lunch to work!
Question: Where do you go to eat when you’re homesick for mom’s cooking?
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I took a trip to Zion National Park with a couple of long distance girlfriends. We try to take a trip together and reunite once a year. For two years now we had a formula. We fly to LAX and then drive 7-8 hours to a national park, spend 2-3 days there, and then drive back to LA to fly home. This year before heading to the airport, we had breakfast at Porto’s, a Cuban bakery and cafe. My friend Thomas, a former Los Angeles resident recommended this place. He tells me he orders the Potato Balls (a Porto’s trademark but they’re generally known as papas rellenas) and brings them back to Texas every time he travels to LA.
Their bakery case is impressive. Cakes, sweet and savory empanadas, croissants, muffins, danishes, puffs, and on and on. It’s overwhelming in the best way.
It was breakfast and I lean savory so I ordered a bacon omelet croissant sandwich. It ended up being even more indulgent and heavier than listed on the menu. There’s a layer of crispy potato sticks, tomatoes, and a slathering of mayonnaise. I finished that whole dang thing.
I also ordered a box of Potato Balls and a couple of meat pies to take back to enjoy with Sugarface.
And because I am such a sweet girlfriend, I assured quality of the balls before making it back home. Man, the meat pies were good but I’d come back to Porto’s every time I’m in the area for these balls. In case you can’t tell from the photo, they’re fried mashed potato balls stuffed with seasoned ground beef. They’re perfect. Sugarface heated them up the next day and texted me. “I love delicious balls.” So he approves too.
I just came back from a trip to Zion National Park. I blogged about the trip on my personal blog and I mentioned how surprised I was to be impressed by a meatloaf. If there was a list of unsexy but comforting foods, I think meatloaf would make top ten. One of my travel companions told me she didn’t get the appeal of meatloaf. And though I’ve made and consumed meatloaf, I never thought I’d write about it. Yet here I am. About to tell you about the best meatloaf I’ve ever had.
I didn’t expect much of a culinary experience when visiting Zion National Park. I went for the park and for the bonding with my friends. I trusted my server but again didn’t expect to be blown away by the wild game meatloaf. What makes it special? Could be the bison and elk ground up with beef. Could be that it’s bacon wrapped. And or it’s smothered by a Guinness gravy.
Ashley who wasn’t into meatloaf took a bite. And then later took another bite off my plate. “This is the first meatloaf where I didn’t think it was just a loaf of meat.” So if ever you go to Zion National Park (which you should), I strongly urge you to go to Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon and order the meatloaf.
We came back the next morning. I ordered one of their late riser’s breakfasts (entrees that are served after 11 am). The stuffed (with sausage) biscuits and gravy. It was good but the sausage was hardly a substantial sliver. I still happily loaded on carbs before our first hike.
I have a friend dear to me. We met on Youtube five years ago and have maintained a close friendship despite living in different cities and sometimes different states. The last two months, Treavor has been a resident of Austin and for the first time in our friendship, we were able to casually call on each other with hardly any notice. It has been splendid. We have had short notice dinners, planned home-cooked meals, two emergency ice cream dates, and a short notice stand up comedy show. His extended stay in Austin is coming to an end as he is embarking on an international tour. Last night we had our last supper until the next time his nomadic self finds himself in Austin again. I’m going to miss him!
It’s been some years since I’ve last been to La Condesa but I do remember it being a great place for solid modern Mexican fare. Also, their cocktails were intricate and memorable. I was driving last night so I skipped the alcohol.
We ordered a flight of salsa ($5), the pescado tacos (griddled Texas redfish, cabbage, chipotle mayo, pico de gallo, salsa moronity; $12), and the pollo rostizado tacos (rotisserie chicken, chile rub, salsa verde, cilantro; $9). They were delightful and the flight of salsas proved to be handy as the fish tacos needed a bit more salsa to balance out the cabbage.
I’ve been working really hard on portion control and felt this was just perfect amount of food. (I also had a late lunch and this was an early dinner). My dining companion was still a little hungry and I’ve never known him to skip on dessert. And well, I’m always a team player when it comes to sharing food.
So we shared the Horguera (toasted marshmallow semifreddo, milk chocolate, graham, funnel pollen, strawberry-agua dulce red shiso sorbet, $9). The toasted marshmallow semifreddo had the texture of a creamy cheesecake. Divine! We even influenced nearby diners to order it.
Alas, good meals just like extended stays eventually come to an end. Cheers to next time!
I have a group of lady friends whom I’ve met through our passion for food and food writing and have since cultivated rich friendships with them. We try to meet every month or two. However, the five of us have such busy lives and are at various stages of life that it means sometimes we go too long before we can find a date that works for all of us. The last time we managed to all be free at the same time was in August when we caught up over pizza.
Reservations only for parties of eight or larger
We finally got it together in 2015 and met up to try the newly opened Launderette. It was such a fantastic meal and we gossiped over a good portion of their menu. We all agreed that everything we tasted was impeccable with mild disagreements on favorites. For instance, everyone really liked the caramelized endives but I had a hard time processing it. Is it a candy? A vegetable? I also quite enjoyed the chicken liver pâté but the girls felt it was a tad heavy. Michelle and I both thought the Brick Chicken was our favorites. Funny for both of us because we rarely order chicken when we’re out, but it was so moist and delectable, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Not pictured but also devoured were excellent fries, an apple pie, and the famous ice cream sandwiches. Everyone loved the ice cream sandwiches and they were popular in my instagram newsfeed, but I much preferred the apple pie and I don’t even like apple pies!
Overall, we agreed that it was superb dining experience. From the ambiance, the service, the fashionable people watching, and the price. We ate like royalty and expected to break the bank but were quite relieved when we got the bill!
My take on must orders: Brick Chicken, Charred Octopus, Soft Egg Toast, Chicken Liver Pâté